Scripture Readings: Book of the Prophet Habakkuk 1:2-3, 2:2-4; Second Letter of Saint Paul to Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14; Gospel According to Saint Luke 17:5-10
“The just man, because of his faith, shall live,” Habakkuk the prophet announces in the first reading for Mass this Sunday. Of course faith is one of the essential elements in our relationship with God and the central focus of this Sunday’s Scripture readings.
In the Gospel passage assigned for Sunday, the apostles make a request of the Lord to increase their faith. This request and the response of Jesus are intimately connected to furthering the life and ministry of the early followers of Jesus, but important for us as well in our daily lives as present-day followers of the Lord.
We may all feel a lack of faith in our lives and the need for more faith. This is part and parcel of the human condition and shouldn’t surprise us. In fact it may well be an indication that we are “alive and well,” and while certainly not “finished products,” desirous to be firm in our life in Christ, even with “a little faith.”
To receive the gift of faith, even what feels like only a mustard seed of it, makes many wonderful things possible. Love is the greatest expression of possession of faith. This is symbolized very graphically by Jesus by the hypothetical power to transplant mountains or sturdy trees.
Some people may expect to be able to do just that if they have faith, and disappointed when they can do such wonders, but that is not really the point of our faith The ability to do good, to love the unlovable, is “just as good” and in fact even better than moving a mountain or tree, which of itself proves nothing.
The quality, not the quantity, of one’s faith matters most. Faith is the expression of our living in Christ, who is the source of all power, courage, confidence and fruitfulness of our life and the simultaneous banishment of fear and doubts from the heart. Genuine faith is always needed for courageous proclamation of the Word of God and at the center of a life well-lived in God’s presence.
Jesus is always concerned with the quality of our faith. He stresses in the Gospels that even the “smallest faith” can do great things, as we see evidenced in the lives of many saints, Teresa of Calcutta among them. She never considered herself more than a “pencil in God’s hand,” as she expressed it. What can a mere pencil do? Look at the life of Mother, now Saint, Teresa! She did great things, but would be the first to cite the famous verse from the psalms: “Not to us, O Lord, not us, but to your name Gove the glory” (Psalm 114(115), verse 1).
Faith is a great gift given by God, like a seed sown in the human heart, which is fruitful in a person’s life in marvelous ways. God sows the seed of faith, a gift which is intended to be cultivated throughout one’s life and even “carry on,” so to speak, for the life in heaven. Understandably, the first disciples of Jesus and we today must regularly pray that the Lord increase our faith.
To keep the matter clear, Jesus goes on in today’s Gospel passage to give a little story about a servant plowing or herding sheep, in order to illustrate an approach to life we are to embrace, echoing other words of Jesus in the Gospels, “I am among you as one who serves” (see Gospel texts: Luke 22:27 and John 13:3). With that comes an important admonition: go and do likewise (see Luke 10:37). In God’s eyes, there can be no better way to live than in serving.
Faithful obedience to God in serving others throughout our life in no way makes us less, but in fact more. Simply put, we remain God’s handiwork and are not God. We are creatures and God is the Creator. Facing God at the end of life, all we can say is simply, “we have done no more than our duty.” What again is our duty? To know, love and serve God and our neighbor by our daily thoughts, words and deeds. The Prophet Micah expressed it thus: “Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
In God’s presence each of us should be profoundly humble, admitting our need for God and knowing that God is the source and goal of our existence. We are loved into being by God, hence life is not about groveling in God’s presence and considering ourselves evil or undeserving of God’s love and care. Quite the opposite is the case. “For God so loved the world that He gave his only-begotten Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved by Him” (John 3:16). We are all part of that great offering of God’s infinite love.
The Scripture scholar, the late Father Carroll Stuhlmueller, who was a member of the religious Congregation of the Passion, says in commenting on this Sunday’s Gospel: “Joyfully, we feel like useless servants, but the reward [from God] is far beyond our efforts (“Biblical Meditations for Ordinary Time, Weeks 23 – 34,” Paulist Press, 1984, page 326).